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Dr Carissa Etienne

One day after calling on Trinidad and Tobago to ramp up its COVID-19 testing, the Pan-American Health Organisation yesterday made another appeal to countries around the region to expand their health workforces in the event there is another health emergency.

At a virtual media briefing yesterday, PAHO Director Dr Carissa Etienne said the organisation is deeply concerned about the human cost of the pandemic, as she noted there are now almost 4,000 deaths a day being recorded in the region.

Health workers, Etienne pointed out remain most vulnerable. She pointed out that PAHO’s data shows nearly 570,000 healthcare workers across the region have fallen ill and more than 2,500 have succumbed to the virus.

The PAHO director therefore called on governments to ensure even those who are not directly caring for COVID patients are properly protected and compensated.

“Health workers should be working regular shifts, not overtime long hours since we know that risk of infection increases the longer we work,” Etienne said.

Additionally, she suggested these workers be at the front of the line together with those most at risk of severe COVID-19 to receive vaccines when they becomes available.

In the interim, Etienne said it is important for countries to boost their healthcare capacity in the event another health disaster hits.

“Across Latin America and the Caribbean, there are just 20 physicians per 10,000 people—much lower than the WHO’s recommended 30 per 10,000. So countries must hire more doctors, as well as nurses, midwives and first responders,” Etienne indicated.

Last month, Health Minister Terrence Deyalsingh announced that the Government was hiring people across the medical spectrum, as he admitted nurses and doctors in T&T were being burned out while caring for COVID-19 patients. Some health workers have also tested positive for the virus as they care for those who are ill.

Meanwhile, Etienne also confirmed that within recent weeks, PAHO has been in consultation with governments across the region about reopening their borders.

However, she advised governments to carefully evaluate before resuming travel by asking, “What are the transmission dynamics of the virus in the country, as well as the testing and contact tracing capacity, and is the health system prepared for an influx of cases in the event of a new outbreak occurs?”

On Tuesday, PAHO’s Director for Communicable Diseases, Dr Marcos Espinal, said T&T was still not testing enough to fully understand the magnitude of the problem in the country.